Object: Pipe fragment

Pipe fragment
Europe: Germany: Taunus mountain range
1st-3rd century CE
Materials: lead

Running water was one of the many technological marvels of the ancient world. Fresh water is vital for life and easy access to it has always been a requirement for the health and success of human settlements. Lakes, rivers, and streams provide abundant water but are often contaminated and less than ideal for drinking water. Spring waterand ground water

Reconstruction of the Nymphaeum of Herodes Atticus from Olympia, Greece

accessed by wells has long been the preferred source of drinking water even in the Greek and Roman eras. Natural springs were so important to ancient cultures that most were considered sacred and often had temples and deities associated with them.

In Greek and Roman times these temples were often called nymphaeums, and were dedicated to water spirits called nymphs. Other examples of ancient sacred springs can be found near the entrance to the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi (the Castalian Spring) and the famous spring in Bath, England.

The following is a video on the source spring for one of Rome’s many aqueducts and its significance.

As these ancient cities expanded they often outgrew their local water supplies. In order to keep the cities supplied with water, cisterns for water storage and underground tunnels and channels were developed to transport water over short distances as early as 700 BCE in Jerusalem. Over time the Romans expanded this system to transport water over distances as long as 280 miles, with occasional stretches of above ground piping. These pipelines and aqueducts transported water into the ancient cities and were constructed of a number of materials, including terracotta, cement, stone, and lead. Once inside the city, the water in Roman cities was stored in a castellum divisorium, or distribution basin, from which the water would be piped throughout the city to public fountains, baths, and even private houses of the very wealthy. This final portion of the system was almost always made of lead pipe like the fragment found in the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum. While there has been some speculation that these lead pipes may have caused health problems, it is more commonly believed that the high levels of calcium in the water along with its constant movement protected the Romans from most of the risks of lead poisoning. However, the Romans were aware of the dangers of lead and even Vitruvius advocated for the use of terracotta pipes. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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